In a move heralded as a “once-in-a-generation investment,” Idaho state parks are set to undergo a transformative $140 million enhancement, promising to benefit both residents and visitors for generations to come.
The funding, a combination of state and federal sources, aims to revitalize and expand all 30 state parks, ensuring they not only meet the current demands but also cater to future needs.
Two pivotal funding sources have synergized to facilitate this monumental investment in Idaho’s natural heritage. The first, a $45 million allocation, stems from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, signed into law by President Joe Biden in March 2021.
The second, a substantial $95 million, originates from Senate Bill 1196, passed by the Idaho Legislature and signed by Gov. Brad Little, derived from transfers from the state’s general fund to the parks and recreation fund, as reported by the Idaho Capital Sun.
The funding is earmarked for a myriad of projects aimed at not only preserving but also enhancing the state parks. Among the notable initiatives are the acquisition of hot springs, the paving of a scenic Eastern Idaho trail, and the inauguration of a new observatory, which will allow the public to utilize telescopes to explore the night skies free of charge.
Moreover, the investment will facilitate the creation of up to 450 new campsites over the next decade, renovate restrooms, introduce additional boat ramps, expand parking facilities, improve trails, and upgrade electrical and water systems.
These projects, set to roll out over several years, signify a commitment to ensuring the parks are equipped to handle the increasing visitor numbers and demands.
The timing of this financial injection is particularly poignant, with Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman, Craig Quintana, highlighting that the state parks have experienced record visitation, averaging about 7.4 million visitors over the past three years.
The increased footfall has naturally accelerated the wear and tear on facilities, making the funding not only beneficial but crucial.
The funding is not merely a response to current demands but also addresses a backlog of deferred maintenance projects, which have accumulated over years of lean budgeting during economic recessions.
At least $70 million from the state surplus money is designated to tackle these maintenance projects, ensuring the parks are not only expanded but also adequately maintained.
The bipartisan support for the funding and subsequent projects underscores the universal recognition of the importance of state parks to Idaho. Legislators from both parties sponsored and voted for the bill, with the Idaho Senate passing Senate Bill 1196 with a 25-10 vote, followed by a 55-15 vote in favor by the Idaho House of Representatives.
The collaborative efforts extend beyond party lines, with Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation Director, Susan Buxton, engaging with legislators about the backlog of deferred maintenance in state parks and the record usage at those parks. This collaborative, bipartisan effort has been pivotal in securing the largest funding bill in state parks history.
While some projects will unfold over several years and many are still in the design phase, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation’s development bureau is currently managing 93 active projects, totaling $75 million. This signifies a proactive approach to utilizing the funds and ensuring projects are executed in a timely manner.
The investment is not only a win for conservation efforts and recreational users but also stands to benefit rural communities across the state that are located close to the state parks.
Rialin Flores, executive director of Conservation Voters for Idaho, emphasized the importance of ensuring Idaho remains a desirable location for future generations to live, grow up, and raise their families.